04/21/2016 05:02 EDT | Updated 04/22/2017 05:12 EDT

Let's Make 2016 The Year Canada Becomes A Climate Leader

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, stands for a photograph after an interview in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Wednesday, March 2, 2016. Trudeau said money will be provided to Federation of Canadian Municipalities 'to help our cities and towns in responding to pressing climate change challenges.' Photographer: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Back in 2013, I was struck by two statistics. The first was a report from the National Climate Data Center that outlined how, at 27 years old at the time, I had never lived through a month of below-average global temperatures.

The second was the realization that Stephen Harper had been my prime minister for all of my adult life.

Taken together, these painted a striking portrait of the challenge ahead -- the pervasive climate crisis and a political establishment beholden to the fossil fuel industry dead set on deepening that crisis.

Then, this past October, one of these things changed. Stephen Harper lost the federal election and Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party won, coming to power with sweeping promises that Canada would be taking serious action on climate change.

For many, October 20 marked the dawn of a new day when it came to climate action. The new prime minister's words instilled a deep sense of hope that real action is not only possible in this new political reality, but with the right pressure, it could even be likely. Now it's time for us to put that pressure on.

While the government in Canada has changed, the dangerous influence of big oil on our climate policy hasn't.

In March, the Government of Canada convened provincial and territorial leaders in Vancouver to launch the process of developing a National Climate Strategy. Meant to be a comprehensive plan for tackling climate change across the country, this strategy could be a chance for Canada to demonstrate with actions, not words, a real commitment to confronting the climate crisis.

So far, the portents for ambitious, bold action haven't been great. At the meetings in Vancouver, the prime minister boasted about his plans to expand fossil fuel infrastructure and use pipelines to fund the transition to renewable energy. Unfortunately for the prime minister, this logic only makes sense if ignore the science.

For Canada to meet its climate obligations, we need to leave the majority of our fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Added up, that means we can't afford to build projects that lock in fossil fuel expansion, projects like the Kinder Morgan and Energy East tar sands pipelines.

So, unless the prime minister is talking about melting down the piles of scrap pipeline left unused by the Keystone XL rejection to be repurposed into wind turbines, using pipelines to fuel the renewable revolution is, frankly, ridiculous.

Instead, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We need to rapidly move to a 100 per cent renewable economy, something we can do in Canada in a matter of years, and easily by 2050. We need to ensure that workers are retrained and supported through this shift, and that justice and reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples is baked into the plan. To do all this, it's going to take pressure from below.

While the government in Canada has changed, the dangerous influence of big oil on our climate policy hasn't. Prime Minister Trudeau has the power to do what Stephen Harper wouldn't -- say no to big oil, but we can't just hold our breath and hope. We can't wait to see what is in the government's climate plan, but need to fight for our own, a People's Climate Plan.

2016 can be the year that Canada changes course on climate change, but to make that happen, we're going to need to demonstrate, and grow, the power of the climate movement.

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